Bosnia votes for mayors at time of renewed tensions


Bosnia voted for new mayors on Sunday at a time of renewed ethnic tensions, with the election marked by a minor clash between Muslims and Croats in the country’s south.

A fight broke out in the town of Stolac when a Muslim candidate, complaining of fraud, lashed out violently at an ethnic Croat who was overseeing the poll, said national electoral commission chief Ahmet Santic.

Three people were slightly injured and polling was cancelled in the town of 14,500 inhabitants, a mix of Croats and Bosnians.

The country’s estimated 3.2 million voters were largely expected to vote along ethnic lines, with the first results due late Sunday following the close of polls at 1700 GMT.

In the northwestern town of Velika Kladusa, the position of mayor was expected to go to war criminal Fikret Abdic, 77, who was convicted by a Croatian court in 2002.

During Bosnia’s 1990s inter-ethnic war, the Muslim warlord sided with the Serbs against Muslim forces loyal to Sarajevo and proclaimed an “Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia”.

He was released in 2012 after serving two-thirds of a 15-year jail sentence.

In the eastern town of Srebrenica, known for the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, a Serb was tipped to become mayor for the first time since 1999.

But Muslim candidate and incumbent mayor Camil Durakovic told AFP that he “expects to win”.

Today Srebrenica is a microcosm of Bosnia, with Muslims and Serbs living side by side but by no means together — still distrustful more than two decades after the war that claimed 100,000 lives and displaced two million people.

The town’s election was a political confrontation between the two communities, although both candidates have vowed to work for the benefit of all citizens.

– Controversial referendum –

This year tensions in Bosnia are particularly strong, intensified by the decision of its Serbs at a referendum last weekend to continue celebrating their “national holiday” — despite Sarajevo authorities ruling the holiday and the plebiscite illegal.

The Dayton peace accords that ended the war in 1995 split Bosnia into two semi-independent entities — the Serb-run Republika Srpska (RS) and a Muslim-Croat federation — linked by weak central institutions.

The political leaders on both sides, Milorad Dodik in the RS and Muslim Bakir Izetbegovic, led aggressive campaigns ahead of Sunday’s vote using nationalist rhetoric.

In Banka Luka, capital of the RS, the mayoral candidate for Dodik’s SNSD party is threatened by a rival Serb. A defeat would weaken the SNSD, which has led the city for 19 years.

© 2016 AFP

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